This book takes the reader right back to the starting point. It gives the opportunity to wipe the slate clean and make our own choices about what sort of person we wish to be. To deliberately establish our character on the beliefs, values and goals we choose, rather than those we inherited or merely drifted into.
Chapter Headings and summaries
Most of us drift through life on the tides of circumstance. The prologue acknowledges that we have the option to exercise a great deal of choice about how we live our lives and introduces the reader to Maslow’s hierarchy of human needs.
Where Do I Wish to Get to?
We can only choose from different paths if we know what our intended destination is. This chapter gives us a list of questions to ask ourselves. These cause us to think about a range of emotional and physical issues from which we can establish where we are at this time and identify areas in our life which we would like to change.
Do we like the person we are?
Many of us still suffer from a substantial amount of criticism we received as children. This chapter shows us that we no longer need to be burdened by the residue of self-doubt created in childhood.
Developing Self Respect
Focusing on the characteristics and abilities in ourselves which we like. Then, building on these to form an unshakable feeling of self worth.
Starting with the understanding that no one is 100% confident under all circumstances. But we all have some confidence in some areas of our life. We can develop confidence in exactly the same way that a bodybuilder develops their physique. Through conscious and carefully directed effort.
Need for Recognition
We don’t necessarily want to be famous but neither do we wish to be invisible. It is important to all of us that we are seen and heard in our daily lives.
Peer Pressure and Choosing Our Own way of doing Things
We have all been and continue to be under pressure which requires us to conform to the way our families, work colleagues or other groups want us to behave. It is about the influence of the group against the courage of the individual.
Shyness is a form of embarrassment. In essence, embarrassment occurs when we are inward looking and not comfortable with our ability to cope in that situation. Shyness can be overcome with the development of confidence and the transfer of our thoughts to the subject at hand rather than dwelling on how we think other people are perceiving us.
Assertiveness is when we stand up for our rights in a firm, calm and considerate way. We all have a right to be assertive which is quite different to being aggressive.
The Desire to be Attractive
We all have the desire to be attractive to others. But physical attractiveness is only one facet of human beauty. How we interact with other people and how generous we are in acknowledging them, directly affects how attractive they find us.
There is much about ourselves which we cannot change. Things like height and skin colour are beyond our control. There’s no point worrying about things we cannot control so we might as well accept the facts as they are. If we wish to promote our physical attractiveness we can however spend appropriate time and effort together with good judgment in maintaining our body and dressing appropriately.
The Body Language of Confidence
We may think that body language and confidence are a chicken and egg situation. Which one comes first? Most of us make the mistake of thinking that if we are confident it will then show. We can however develop the skills of an actor and exhibit confident body language which in turn will give us real confidence. Even Cary Grant noted that, to some extent we all play roles, when he said. “Cary Grant- I wish I was him.”
Being Positive, Peaceful and Accepting
Starting with John Milton’s quotation. “The mind is its own place, and in itself can make a heaven of Hell and a hell of Heaven.”
Without being Pollyanna like, we all need to be reminded that we can choose our own attitude at any time. We can choose to be positive, cheerful and optimistic or we can decide to dwell on the worst in every situation.
Personality Attractiveness – Humour
We can all learn to use humour. We can all make our personality substantially more interesting to others if we learn to say interesting things in an interesting way.
Fear, Frustration and Anger
Our most basic animal instincts think only about ourselves. An ideal world for any of us would be to have things exactly the way we want them. Although we will probably never eliminate fear, anger and frustration from our lives we can minimise their effect on us as much as possible. We can do this by recognising our own reaction to various situations and by controlling our own emotional response.
Some Foreign Words to Think About
In English we do not have a word with the same meaning as schardenfreude. Similarly we do not have anything similar to mudita. This is the Pali word found in Buddhist teaching, which means taking pleasure in the success and happiness of others. If we adopt the spirit of mudita and combine it with the Japanese concept of kaizen, meaning continual improvement, we have a wonderful formula for happiness and success.
Forgiveness and Catharsis
Robert Enright, a developmental psychologist at the University of Wisconsin defines forgiveness as "giving up the resentment to which you are entitled and offering to the person who hurt you friendlier attitudes to which they are not entitled.” This approach to forgiveness is both pragmatic and cathartic.
Integrity in Everyday life
Integrity can be a somewhat daunting concept. We see the word used in conjunction with great (and often historical) names like Abraham Lincoln. In reality, integrity in our day-to-day lives is far simpler. For example it can be a matter of consistently doing what we say we will do. More importantly it is a question of being honest with ourselves. Recognising whether or not we are happy with the ethical choices we make.
Gratitude and Attitude
Most of us have lives filled with abundance. It is a quirk of human nature that, however many wonderful things we have in our lives, we can quickly turn our attention to problems and give them too much emphasis. Our own lives become so much happier when we live with an attitude of gratitude.
Problem Solving – Decision Making
In order to do anything or achieve anything we must overcome fear and take some risks. If we want to form new relationships, build a business or paddle down the Amazon it will involve fear and risk which can only be resolved by studying the problem and making a decision.
Judgement and Common Sense
Commonsense is apparently intuitive but has in fact been learnt, consciously or subconsciously and like any other skill can be further developed and improved. If there are any parts of our daily lives which are not working smoothly we can think about them and plan ways in which to make improvements. We can learn to act and react effectively.
Sometimes people do not make it easy for us to get to know them. Their own shyness, insecurities and suspicions create defences which we simply do not make the effort to overcome. It is easy to be dismissive of such people because of their apparently difficult manner. Yet there must be examples in all our lives when we have been rewarded to find unexpected goodness in people.
Listening is as important as speaking.
The greatest gift we can give to someone is to listen to them fully. Concentrating on someone else and what they are saying is something that we can all practise more often.
We learn specific skills to undertake specific tasks. Beyond this there is another type of life long learning which gives us inestimable pleasure and enriches our lives enormously.
Ritual and Tradition
We need a sense of consistency. We want to feel that however much things change, there is a ribbon of continuity attached to us which has run through past generations and now gives us a sense of belonging.
We all have a need for faith because of the brevity of life and existential uncertainty.
This section gives a thumbnail sketch of the world’s great religions. While the link between Judaism and Christianity has always been recognised it is worth noting that one third of the Qur’an is also common to the Old Testament. Human religious belief is remarkably similar. It is only the interpretation of these beliefs which causes such confusion and conflict. It was a wise man, and true believer in God - The Moslem leader Akbar the Great who said, “God does not mind the name by which we call Him.”
Almost everyone will tell you that they are a spiritual person. This is fairly easy to understand from anyone who follows an orthodox religion. But when people say that they do not believe in God, what do they mean by their spirituality?
Prayer and Meditation
If Buddhists do not believe in a God, then to whom do they pray and for what purpose? And if Buddhists pray and gain benefit from doing so, then so too can anyone including atheists and agnostics. Meditation, in whatever form it takes, and however it is achieved, offers everyone the ultimate sanctuary.
Atheists say that religious belief is a simplistic way of denying our own mortality. That believing in both God and an afterlife, which includes a heavenly state, is wishful thinking. GK Chesterton wrote “When people start believing in God they do not believe in one thing, they believe in anything.”
Our perspective on everything is relative to ourselves. We think of people as being older or younger than we are, when in fact we are all sharing the same wafer thin slice of cosmic time. We understandably think that our world is the centre of the universe. In reality, the vast universe contains more stars and planets than there are grains of sand on every beach on earth.
Our ability to form, maintain and enjoy healthy relationships with a variety of people is the key to happiness. A prerequisite to this is having developed a healthy relationship with our self first.
The greatest gift we can give to the elderly, to the dying to our lovers and to our children is loving touch. Slow, rhythmic and gentle. To give them a sense of quietness and connection. To give them the comfort of release and to give them security, through being touched and held both physically and emotionally.
Sex is one of the great human needs and yet it is unlike the others. Most people are or have been confused by their own sexuality. Apart from *masturbation (which is also discussed here) we require the involvement of another human being in order to participate in sex. This immediately opens the possibility to a range of emotions and actions ranging from mutually loving to the self-centred, guilt ridden and abusive. The aim is to clarify to ourselves how we wish to enjoy our sexuality and how to minimise any hurt and guilt.
*The first known critical reference to masturbation comes in the Bible with the statement that “Onan spilt his seed upon the ground.” The humourist Dorothy Parker named her budgerigar “Onan” because he constantly spilt his seed.
Stripped down to the core of the matter is this simple proposition. We all want to love and to be loved. We all want to feel that the love we receive is genuine and sincere. We all want to feel that the love we are receiving will be ongoing. When we daydream about a relationship we think about all the wonderful things we will receive from our partner. But what we must never lose sight of is that being in a partner relationship is just as much about giving love and support as it is about receiving.
We cannot control another person physically and we certainly cannot control their emotions. Moreover they cannot control us. Even in the most stable and loving relationships there will be private fantasies which could be considered as “mental” adultery. Fidelity comes from the word “fidere” which is Latin for trust. We must not only have faith in our partner but, equally importantly, have trust and have faith in ourselves and our own ability to hold the affection of our partner. In so doing we avoid the minefield of doubt and distrust.
Finding that Relationship
Sex is the big trap. We become so preoccupied with it, that it overwhelms almost everything else. It diminishes to obscurity the importance of what matters most in a relationship. Wanting to be with someone and enjoying their companionship while living our ordinary day-to-day lives. Being “in love” is the other big trap. There is a huge difference between the wonderful, hormonally driven, euphoria of desire and the solid day-to-day caring about someone. However a relationship may start we do not remain “in love” indefinitely. We can however sustain a wonderful loving relationship throughout our lives.
Money can’t buy us happiness, but a lack of money can cause considerable difficulty and distress. It has been said that marriage can survive adultery but not debt. Everyone has basic financial needs which include the buying of food, the provision of somewhere to live, the payment of utilities and quite probably the need to pay for some type of transportation such as bus fares. So our first financial goal is to have sufficient resources to meet our basic needs. Our long term goal should be to achieve financial security for our old age.
Money itself is simply an intermediary. Having said that it is interesting to see how the global economy works so satisfactorily on this system of trust in paper. The most important thing about having money is that it gives us freedom. The freedom to choose how we will spend our time.
How to Become Rich.
Anyone reading this book is probably lucky enough to be in the top 10% of the world’s affluent. Quite possibly even in the top 1%. Should we wish to become even richer we can almost certainly do so. It has been said that we can have anything we want. We just cannot have everything we want. But if riches are our top choice we can achieve them.
Do You Hate Paying Tax?
We all want to breathe fresh air, walk on safe streets and know that we have access to top quality education and medical care. We only have to look at Third World countries where corruption is endemic and few taxes are collected to understand and accept our need to contribute to the freedom and quality of life through the process of taxation.
Most of us understand the basic concept of maintaining our car. If however we were to analyse the causes of illness in any major hospital we would find that a high percentage of the diseases are caused either by lack of maintenance or by actual abuse.
Over seventy five per cent of all the illnesses and diseases from which we suffer are avoidable. Many illnesses such as heart disease, some cancers, type 2 diabetes and premature deafness, develop as a result of our lifestyle. Anyone who has had a serious accident looks back with regret, wishing that they had not put themselves into that particular situation of risk. With poor diet, drinking, smoking, obesity, lack of exercise and sexually transmitted diseases we are at choice now, about our future health.
Drugs. Uses, Abuses and Addiction
From coffee to crack cocaine. Lenny Henry joked that “ecstasy is a drug so strong it makes white people think they can dance.” Heroine offers all of us the ultimate high and the ultimate degradation. A recent television programme showed a dirty, dishevelled woman in appalling physical condition, injecting heroin into her heel. When asked why she did this she said that heroin gave her an incredible sense of pleasure. It was like having an orgasm which could last for two or three hours. But, she warned that the addiction and need for heroine is so urgent that she guaranteed it would dominate and destroy the life of anyone who ever used it. Nothing and no-one in their life would be more important than heroin. Everything, including family members, would be used, abused and violated in the constant search for the next hit.
The Food We Eat
Hunger pangs and oral pleasure have evolved to give us the strongest possible motivation to eat and enjoy eating. That leaves most human beings with a dilemma unique in the animal kingdom. We are motivated by pleasure to eat and many of us have the economic resources to eat as much as we want. A solution to this is to concentrate on the quality of our food while keeping an eye on the quantity. Remember Joan Collins’ advice, “That the best exercise for loosing weight is to push away from the table.”
Fitness and Exercise
It is much easier to think in terms of living an active lifestyle than of pumping iron in a gym. Being conscious of our physical health and taking steps to promote it, is beneficial not only physically but also mentally. When we know that our body is healthy and working well we are more likely to feel emotionally and psychologically upbeat. We can look towards the future with optimism.
Self Fulfillment and Self Expression
When our stomachs are full and we feel secure, all of us have an innate desire to express ourselves and be creative. Art is inexplicable. The American artist, Edward Hopper noted “that if something can be said in words why bother to paint it?” Andy Wahol never explained his work saying that it was futile to verbalise art. Daniel Barenboim said ”Music is a wonderful escape but isn’t just about sounds. If Beethoven’s symphonies were only sounds, nobody would bother with them.”
Preparation for Death
Even when we rejoice at the birth of a baby, we know that life too will come to an end. We are aware of the fact that everyone we know and love, will die. We know that we ourselves will die. Few people outside the medical profession see death. Fewer still have any concept of the fact that we can and should prepare for death. It is appropriate for us to undertake practical preparations such as the writing of a will. More importantly we should be emotionally prepared for death. There is so much preparation we can do in life to give support and emotional comfort to those who are close to death and those who will be left to suffer the grief of bereavement. Honesty with ourselves and others, together with open, caring communication are a good starting point.
A summation of the choices that we all have but frequently do not exercise. And the realisation, stated in the Irish proverb, that “You’ve got to do your own growing, no matter how tall your grandfather was.”
The author who was born in India to British parents, has lived in many parts of the world. He has worked for large corporations, including Kodak Canada, currently runs his own small business and spent over 20 years in various consular positions.
The author’s late wife developed a tumour. Together they lived through the physical and emotional distress caused by the spreading cancer until her untimely death in 2000. He then had to make the adjustment from being half of a couple, to reinventing himself as a single man.
As an experienced speaker and former professional photographer, he now writes travel articles and coaches others in giving talks and presentations.